Sunday, April 08, 2007

Thomas L. Friedman: The Silence that Kills

Published in: New York Times
March 9, 2007

On Feb. 20, the A.P. reported from Afghanistan that a suicide attacker disguised as a health worker blew himself up near “a crowd of about 150 people who had gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open an emergency ward at the main government hospital in the city of Khost.” A few days later, at a Baghdad college, a female Sunni suicide bomber blew herself up amid students who were ready to sit for exams, killing 40 people.

Stop and think for a moment how sick this is. Then stop for another moment and listen to the silence. The Bush team is mute. It says nothing, because it has no moral authority. No one would listen. Mr. Bush is losing a P.R. war to people who blow up emergency wards. Europeans are mute, lost in their delusion that this is all George Bush’s and Tony Blair’s fault.

But worst of all, Muslims, the very people whose future is being killed, are also mute. No surge can work in Iraq unless we have a “moral surge,” a counternihilism strategy that delegitimizes suicide bombers.

The most important restraints are cultural, societal and religious. It takes a village - but the Arab-Muslim village today is largely silent. The best are indifferent or intimidated; the worst quietly applaud the Sunnis who kill Shiites.

Nobody in the Arab world “has the guts to say that what is happening in Iraq is wrong - that killing schoolkids is wrong,” said Mamoun Fandy, director of the Middle East program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “People somehow think that killing Iraqis is good because it will stick it to the Americans, so Arabs are undermining the American project in Iraq by killing themselves.”

The world worries about highly enriched uranium, but “the real danger is highly enriched Islam,” Mr. Fandy added. That is, “highly enriched Sunnism” and “highly enriched Shiism” that eats away at the Muslim state, the way Hezbollah is trying to do in Lebanon or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or Al Qaeda everywhere.

One result: there’s no legitimate, decent, accepted source of Arab-Muslim authority today, no center of gravity “for people to anchor their souls in,” Mr. Fandy said. In this welter of confusion, the suicide bombers go uncondemned or subtly extolled. Arab nationalist media like Al Jazeera “practically tell bin Laden and his followers, ‘Bravo,’ ” Mr. Fandy said. “The message sent to bin Laden is that ‘You are doing to the West what we want done, but we can’t do it.’ This is the hidden message that the West is not privy to. Unless extreme pressure is applied on Muslims all over the world to come up with counter-fatwas and pronounce these men as pariahs, very little will happen in fighting terrorism.”

“The battleground in the Arab world today is not in Palestine or Lebanon, but in the classrooms and newsrooms,” Mr. Fandy concluded. That’s where “the software programmers” reside who create symbolic images and language glorifying suicide bombers and make their depraved acts look legitimate. Only other Arab-Muslim programmers can defeat them.

Occasionally an honest voice rises, giving you a glimmer of hope that others will stand up. The MEMRI translation Web site ( just posted a poem called “When,” from a Saudi author, Wajeha al-Huwaider, that was posted on Arab reform sites like

When you cannot find a single garden in your city, but there is a mosque on every corner - you know that you are in an Arab country.

When you see people living in the past with all the trappings of modernity - do not be surprised, you are in an Arab country.

When religion has control over science - you can be sure that you are in an Arab country.

When clerics are referred to as “scholars” - don’t be astonished, you are in an Arab country.

When you see the ruler transformed into a demigod who never dies or relinquishes his power, and nobody is permitted to criticize - do not be too upset, you are in an Arab country.

When you find that the large majority of people oppose freedom and find joy in slavery - do not be too distressed, you are in an Arab country.

When you hear the clerics saying that democracy is heresy, but seizing every opportunity provided by democracy to grab high positions - do not be surprised, you are in an Arab country....

When you discover that a woman is worth half of what a man is worth, or less - do not be surprised, you are in an Arab country....

When land is more important than human beings - you are in an Arab country....

When fear constantly lives in the eyes of the people - you can be certain you are in an Arab country.”


John Sobieski said...

Maybe Friedman is finally getting some sense. About the only thing I can agree with him on.

George Mason said...

The statements by Wajeha al-Huwaider bear a faint resemblance to the hilarious routines of Jeff Foxworthy who popularized the fill-in-the-blank style for rednecks: If you _________ (fill in the blanks), then you are probably a redneck. Coming from the Deep South, I loved them. By contrast, there is nothing amusing about the list from Wajeha al-Huwaider. They are, however, outstanding. This technique could be used effectively by the humor-minded among us.

So many people have tried to tiptoe around the truth by fingering those bad, bad, bad "militant jihadists," and those terrible "Islamofascists." Such p.c. egg-walking simply let all the rest of the bad guys off the hook and out of the spotlight.

In the first place, it is Islam and Muslims, not some adjectivization of each. Then, after reading Patai and more recently Brigitte Gabriel, I see that we are similarly letting Arabs off the hook. I know some people who are great Arabs and not like the scumbags, but I fear that most in their own homelands are truly part of the problem and not the solution. Wajeha al-Huwaider says over and over, " are in an Arab country."

This makes sense when you realize that the Arabic language and Islam grew up together, fused. The impress of Islam on the conquered impressed Arabic as well, and Arabic became a cultural transmission belt. Even if you are a Christian Arab, you cannot escape fundamental formative influences.

Ann said...

Cubed here.

"Nobody in the Arab world “has the guts to say that what is happening in Iraq is wrong - that killing schoolkids is wrong,” said Mamoun Fandy..."

Mamoun almost "gets it", and while I am delighted he has made this statement, the fundamental problem - the reason that so many Muslims think that killing schoolkids is OK is not so much that they "lack guts," but because their moral code is invalid.

A moral code is a set of values to guide our thinking and behavior. Every moral code has a "core value" (philosophers call it the "standard of the good") by which all other values, large and small, are measured.

Our "core value," the "standard of the good," is human life. That's why we regard killing school kids as wrong, as immoral.

Because our core value is the individual human life, we regard those thoughts and behaviors that tend to support the individual human life as "good," while those that tend to threaten it are seen as "bad."

What about Islam? Islam is an entity that regards the collective, the group, not the individual human being as important; rather, the "spread of Islam" is its core value, its "standard of the good."

So, therefore, any thought or behavior that promotes the spread of Islam constitutes the "good," while any that threatens it is "bad."

If by blowing up school kids, shoppers in a market, customers at a pizza parlor, passengers on an airplane, vacationers at a hotel, office workers in skyscrapers, commuters on a subway, students sitting for an exam, etc. in some way promote the spread of Islam, then these behaviors are regarded as "good" and earn a pass to paradise.

On the other hand, thoughts and behaviors such as criticizing any aspect of Islam, heresy, apostacy, conversion, opposing sharia, etc. all threaten the spread of Islam, and are considered "bad."

That human life is the valid and absolute standard of the good can be objectively derived from reality; until Islam changes this fundamental orientation in terms of its moral code, we will always be at war with one another.

Here's my bet: Although there are some Muslims who understand at some level that Islam's moral code is invalid, and that is what is causing virtually ALL their problems, they are in the extreme minority; they have been marginalized to such a degree that they will not be able to influence the average Muslim to make the necessary changes before orthodox Muslims push us beyond our capacity to tolerate, and we are forced into a definitive self-defense mode.

dunes said...

When fear constantly lives in the eyes of the people - you can be certain you are in an Arab country.”

That same fear is what is spreading ahead of the Islamic invasion of the West. As the sand-storm that blinds the eyes with painful grit is looming in the East, we see the dark clouds brewing on the horizon and darkening the streets of European and Western civilisations.
Soon enough the sandstorm will be blowing through our towns and villages.